For the People?

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

[Editor’s Note: These Corners together show democratic ethics, laws, and oversight seem irrelevant to those who “did it all for the people.” At the same time, tribalism and aristocratic privilege and paternalism seem on the rise.]

Where is the Ethics Czar?

They’re rioting in Athens. The Big Three are broke. Wall Street melted, and before we even get a new administration and new solutions, hope and change are becoming business as usual.

I don’t understand why in the world — for all her obvious academic and business achievements and in all due respect — Obama associate Valerie Jarrett (or Caroline Kennedy) — never elected to a single office — would be qualified to be a U.S. senator by a fiat appointment, especially in a political climate where Sarah Palin (16 years in local and state politics, and several elections) was deemed by the media too inexperienced for high elected office.

And I don’t understand why Charles Rangel mired in serial ethics and legal messes, and Barney Frank and Chris Dodd at ground zero of the Fannie-Freddie meltdown, haven’t stepped down from their committee chairmanships, especially given the nexus between the money they received and the entities they were supposed to oversee.

Jesse Jackson Jr.’s loud protestations seem designed to assure the audience he was terrified of wiretap transcripts to come. The problem with all this and more is that the hope and change gospel preached a new age of high ethics, no more business as usual, and an end to big money and big politics. And? We are witnessing the police needing policing — all the while we are still waiting, waiting, waiting for still more “let me be perfectly clear” quips about the Blagojevich mess.

The Axlerod matter-of-fact, of-course-he-has, admission of initial talks between Obama and Blagojevich has already been rendered inoperative. And the initial sweeping Obama assurances about neither himself nor his staff involved in the process of bargaining and horse-trading for his Senate seat with the Governor are already in need of alteration.

Last week’s modified limited hang-out simply won’t do.

The new tribalism

Classical political theory always defined constitutional government as an advance beyond tribalism, since the first discovery of democratic politics in Cleisthenes’ Athens.

But we seem to be devolving back to the rule of the tribe, the first-cousin, and the family clan, well apart from the Bush and Clinton genocracies.

Consider — Caroline Kennedy, who has never run for, or been elected to anything, is now assumed to be entitled to a N.Y. Senate seat (replacing Hillary Clinton whose election was energized in turn by her marriage to Bill); Jackson, Inc. in Chicago bids for a Senate appointment seat, Blago assumes the governorship on the basis of a political career based on familial networks in Illinois. And on and on. I suppose the Senate will soon look like the imperial Roman version where a few great families and clans passed on ceremonial seats from generation to generation.

Note that so far no one in New York has a clue about what Ms. Kennedy feels about any issues of concern to New Yorkers, or whether she has any political skills or is familiar with the constituents of her state or how she performs under the glare of press scrutiny.

How aristocratic familial entitlement jives with democratic egalitarianism and liberal cult of the common man, I have no idea…

Friends of Bernie? 

Given what we know of Stevens, Rangel, and the Freddie/Fannie circle, surely no one like Bernie Madoff steals billions right under the N.Y./D.C. radar without friends in high places. Can’t our media do some research and find out exactly to whom and to what degree he donated to Congress? (Names and amounts?) This makes Ken Lay look tiny.

And how counterintuitive this is all getting: What started all this was the Freddie/Fannie nexus (e.g., we former politicians at both agencies give Congress tens of thousands, they brag about helping the less well-off while giving us in turn the go-ahead to lend more, we get inflated bonuses, the taxpayers cover the ensuing mess) and it should have warned us about the ongoing auto, bank, and financial-house bailouts.

All we are doing is setting the stage for yet another decade of corruption, as ex-Congress and administration people will revolve into these now quasi-government entities, and then get rich lobbying their former friends to continue the life-support tubes. At least when a right-winger like Stevens gets caught we can chalk it up to greed or arrogance, but for others, as we’ve seen with Rangel or Dodd, there are supposedly the high motives of helping others that explain why one doesn’t pay taxes or gives the rich tax breaks or gets a cut on his mortgage or has his campaign stash refilled. We are seeing a sort of insidious sort of “I did it all for the people” unspoken defense of self-aggrandizement.

“Whether you are legalized or not”

I’m sure that the labor secretary nominee Hilda Solis is a bright and savvy politician. But a labor secretary is supposed to reflect some balance between labor and management, one that seeks to hammer out compromises in the best interests of the nation. Her record, however, is exclusively pro-union without exception or doubt. And her supposed declaration over a decade ago at a 1996 meeting of the Southwest Voter Registration Project — “We are all Americans, whether you are legalized or not” — while technically correct in the narrow sense that all those living in North, Central, and South America are continental Americans, was a revelation that she either did not believe that U.S. nationality was something exceptional and predicated on legality, or welcomed a sort of de facto noncompliance with the law itself. As it was delivered, “… whether you are legalized or not” was a revolutionary throw-down-the-gauntlet sort of statement.

Her personal story is inspirational, and her brief bilingual acceptance speech no doubt emphasized her fides as a Hispanic appointment, but let us hope that she is about to at least believe, as an executive officer of the U.S. government and its laws, that you are not an American citizen unless you are recognized as such in accordance with U.S. law.

©2008 Victor Davis Hanson

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